Life is Bow-Wow-Tiful at Local Basset Rescue

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Since 1988, Don Steward and Dick Dotard have owned and operated The Dog Show Groomer in Salt Lake City. And when the pair got their kennel license in 1994, they became known throughout the state for much more than giving Fido a snazzy ‘do and a place to stay while his parents are away.

Since 1994, the couple has fostered hundreds of basset hounds and blood hounds — dogs that Dotard has professionally handled on dog show circuits.

“He kind of felt a responsibility to do breed rescue because people kept asking him, ‘Where do I get one?’” said Steward, who also writes for QSaltLake as Ruby Ridge. In the 15 years they have operated the rescue, Steward said the couple have found homes for 390 basset hounds. Those currently in their care — including dogs who cannot be adopted because of age, health or behavior-related issues — have the run of the couple’s home and the three acres of kennel-zoned land upon which it is built. Here, said Steward, the dogs can run, bark, “raise hell and still be dogs” without disturbing any neighbors. And thanks to the couple’s presence, the dogs are not only well-exercised, but house and crate trained and used to people and other pets, including cats and the pair’s “absolutely spoiled rotten show dogs.”

“The reason they work for us for a rescue is because they do better in numbers because they’re pack animals,” he explained. “You put them with two, three or four bassets and they’re completely entertained.”

Because the couple has so much space, they’re in a unique position among shelters: they have enough room to keep dogs until they find a home for them, which can sometimes take a year or two to place. All of this space means that they can be pickier than most shelters when it comes to finding potential adopters.

While many people may want to take a basset home because of the dog’s cute, droopy face, Steward said the couple don’t give out dogs to anyone who calls. For one thing, not all bassets are good candidates for home living. They may be too old (the rescue does not accept dogs over six, because most people want puppies or younger dogs), hostile to children or other dogs, or become aggressive if a human interferes with their food.

While the rescue doesn’t accept dogs like this, Steward said they have, on occasion, ended up keeping a dog if they discover it has a behavior problem.

“We have six [unadoptable] dogs that are literally living out their days with us,” he said. “They hang out with our dogs. The nice thing about pack behavior is it kind of knocks the rough edges off the dogs. [Bassets] are normative; they look around and see what other dogs are doing and that’s how they adopt their behavior.”

For another thing, all families who want a basset may just not be able to give the dog what he or she needs for a happy, healthy life.

In fact, Steward jokes that he spends more time doing education and more time talking people out of adoption than he does placing dogs with happy parents.

“For every dog you adopt out you probably answer about 20 different phone calls from people asking questions about the breed and trying to decide whether they want a basset hound or not,” he said. “A lot of times it’s more about the household and family structure than it is the dog. If you’ve got people who are working four 10 hour days a week and the dog’s going to be stuck in the laundry room, that’s not a good place for a lot of breeds. Bassets need exercise and attention.”

And, of course, adopting a basset hound is a considerable expense — one that many people in today’s bleak economy are unwilling to take on. In fact, Steward said home foreclosures have forced several basset owners to turn their dogs over to a shelter because many apartments don’t allow dogs. And while all of the rescue’s bassets are spayed, neutered and vaccinated, the costs can still be prohibitive.

“Nobody’s adopting because people are scared and don’t want to take on that extra expense,” he said. “And it can be expensive. You’ve got to vaccinate, take it to the vet and get it groomed. You’ve got to feed it. It starts racking up cost-wise and you need to be prepared for that.”

Matching ideal candidates with basset hounds is crucial, he said, to prevent the dogs from being returned because their adopters didn’t know what they were getting into.

Even though the screening is rigorous and basset hounds don’t fit every lifestyle, the rescue has several happy stories. One of Steward’s favorites involves a gay couple from North Salt Lake City who adopted a dog and then called later to say, “I think we need to get him a buddy.”

“It’s one of those situations where dogs really match up with the personality of their owners. They’re two big, burly, beefy guys, you look at them and say, ‘Yeah, it kind of makes sense,’” he said. “And here’s a situation where they’ve got a big fenced yard, their schedule enables them to have good quality time with the dogs, and they have two full grown blood hounds now, and it worked out absolutely perfect. A little gay couple with two kids — two dogs.”

To learn if a basset hound would be a good match for you, call the Dog Show Kennel at (801) 250-2553.

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